Articles

  • 1. The priority principle [abstract]
  • I introduce and argue for a Priority Principle, according to which we exemplify certain of our mental properties in the primary or non-derivative sense. I then apply this principle to several debates in the metaphysics and philosophy of mind.
  • 2. You needn't be simple [abstract]
  • Here's an interesting question: what are we? David Barnett has claimed that reflection on consciousness suggests an answer: we are simple. Barnett argues that the mereological simplicity of conscious beings best explains the Datum: that no pair of persons can itself be conscious. In this paper, I offer two alternative explanations of the Datum. If either is correct, Barnett's argument fails. First, there aren't any such things as pairs of persons. Second, consciousness is maximal; no conscious thing is a proper part of another conscious thing. I conclude by showing how both moves comport with materialist theories of what we are and then apply them to another anti-materialist argument.
  • 3. The elimination argument [abstract]
  • Animalism is the view that we are animals: living, breathing, wholly material beings. Despite its considerable appeal, animalism has come under fire. Other philosophers have had much to say about objections to animalism that stem from reflection on personal identity over time. But one promising objection ("The Elimination Argument") has been overlooked. In this paper, I remedy this situation and examine the Elimination Argument in some detail. I contend that the Elimination Argument is both unsound and unmotivated.
  • 4. Incompatibilism and the past [abstract]
  • There is a new objection to the Consequence Argument for incompatibilism. I argue that the objection is more wide-ranging than originally thought. In particular: if it tells against the Consequence Argument, it tells against other arguments for incompatibilism too. I survey a few ways of dealing with this objection and show the costs of each. I then present an argument for incompatibilism that is immune to the objection and that enjoys other advantages.
  • 5. No bare particulars [abstract]
  • There are predicates and subjects. It is thus tempting to think that there are properties on the one hand, and things that have them on the other. I have no quarrel with this thought; it is a fine place to begin a theory of properties and property-having. But in this paper, I argue that one such theory—bare particularism—is false. I pose a dilemma. Either bare particulars instantiate the properties of their host substances or they do not. If they do not, then bare particularism is both unmotivated and false. If they do, then the view faces a problematic—and, I shall argue, false—crowding consequence.
  • 6. The incompatibility of composition as identity, priority pluralism, and irreflexive grounding [abstract]
  • Some have it that wholes are, somehow, identical to their parts. This doctrine is as alluring as it is puzzling. But in this paper, I show that the doctrine is incompatible with two widely accepted theses. Something has to go.
  • 7. No pairing problem (with J. Rasmussen and L. Van Horn) [abstract]
  • Many have thought that there is a problem with causal commerce between immaterial souls and material bodies. In Physicalism or Something Near Enough, Jaegwon Kim attempts to spell out that problem. Rather than merely posing a question or raising a mystery for defenders of substance dualism to answer or address, he offers a compelling argument for the conclusion that immaterial souls cannot causally interact with material bodies. We offer a reconstruction of that argument that hinges on two premises: Kim's Dictum and the Nowhere Man principle. Kim's Dictum says that causation requires a spatial relation. Nowhere Man says that souls can't be in space. By our lights, both premises can be called into question. We'll begin our evaluation of the argument by pointing out some consequences of Kim's Dictum. For some, these will be costs. We will then present two defeaters for Kim's Dictum and a critical analysis of Kim's case for Nowhere Man. The upshot is that Kim's argument against substance dualism fails.
  • 8. Warrant is unique [abstract]
  • Warrant is what fills the gap between mere true belief and knowledge. But a problem arises. Is there just one condition that satisfies this description? Suppose there isn't: can anything interesting be said about warrant after all? Call this the uniqueness problem. In this paper, I solve the problem. I examine one plausible argument that there is no one condition filling the gap between mere true belief and knowledge. I then motivate and formulate revisions of the standard analysis of warrant. Given these revisions, I argue that there is, after all, exactly one warrant condition

Reviews and Reference

In Progress

  • 1. You are an animal [abstract]
  • In this paper, I argue that you are an animal (and indeed, that human persons in general are animals).
  • 2. Composition and the cases [abstract]
  • In this paper, I offer a new way of handling a host of problematic cases that have gripped philosophers of mind over the past several decades. Attending to composition, I argue, can help us make headway in these murky waters.
  • 3. Materialism without metaphysical supervenience [abstract]
  • Most philosophers of mind presume that materialism requires the supervenience of the mental on the physical. Accordingly, many philosophers have argued against materialism (or for substance dualism) by attempting to refute such supervenience theses. I show that this is a mistake, and that the materialist can dispense with supervenience without giving up her materialist credentials.
  • 4. A moral argument for animalism [abstract]
  • Are we wholly material beings? And supposing we are, which material beings are we? In this paper, I introduce some heretofore unnoticed data and show how they bear on these questions. Others have noted how empirical data appear to have such a bearing; I will here take up a related project. I will argue that certain moral data tell in favor of materialism, the view that we are wholly material beings. I will further argue that the moral data support a particular version of materialism; they support animalism, the view that we are animals or organisms.
  • 5. One god composed of three persons [abstract]
  • The doctrine of the Trinity says that though there are three divine persons, there is exactly one god. In this paper, I develop and defend a mereological account of that doctrine.
  • 6. Physicalism and the puppet argument (with J. Rasmussen) [abstract]
  • In this paper, we introduce and motive an argument ("the puppet argument") that purports to show that if we are wholly material beings, then we are mere puppets of our parts and thus not morally responsible. This argument, we suggest, is a puzzle. The best solutions to this puzzle imply that either (a) materialism about human persons is false, (b) "top-down" determination is possible, or (c) we are not, after all, responsible for anything. Many philosophers are deeply committed to the denial of (a) and (c); such philosophers will find in this paper an argument for a special kind of "top-down" determination--determination from whole to parts. Those who are unwilling to endorse top-down determination may face a tougher choice..

Dissertation

  • Person and Animal [abstract]
  • This dissertation is a study in the nature of human persons. It explores and defends materialism, the thesis that we are wholly material beings. Materialism is widely held, but its status as orthodoxy is not well-founded. Materialists rarely argue for their position, sometimes contenting themselves with mockery of rival views; and they often don't take seriously the increasingly sophisticated objections of anti-materialists. The essays comprising this dissertation remedy this unfortunate situation. In them, I develop a novel case for materialism and answer some influential objections to the view.

    I begin by distinguishing three questions about the metaphysics of human nature and show how their answers fit into the broader project of ontological inquiry. Then, I advance two novel arguments for my preferred version of materialism---animalism, according to which we are animals or organisms. One argument exploits crowding problems that plague non-animalist views. Another shows that animalism best accommodates the moral data. I further argue for a priority principle according to which each of us thinks our thoughts in the primary and non-derivative sense and show that a number of non-animalist views are inconsistent with this principle. These considerations constitute a cumulative prima facie case both for materialism about human persons, and for a species of that doctrine, animalism.

    There are powerful objections to materialism. I spend the remainder of the essays developing and answering a few of these challenges. I first examine a class of objections to materialism that stem from reflection on some peculiar cases. I show that proponents of these objections have made a mistake in ignoring questions about composition (questions about when some things make up another). Finally, I argue that cases of supervenience failure do not tell against materialism. I articulate a version of materialism that is both thoroughly materialist and compatible with such cases. I show that this position is both tenable and stable.

    Successfully defended, Summer 2011.

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I am an assistant professor of philosophy at Yale-NUS College (since 2013). I spent 2012-13 at Yale; before that, I did graduate work and a postdoc at Notre Dame.

My research is mostly in metaphysics, epistemology, and their applications to philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion. I am interested in general questions about what things there are, what they are like, and what can be known of them. But I am especially interested in us human beings, and in our powers and our place in the world.

As a teacher, I am an aspiring generalist, with interests that span the curriculum (including ethics, the history of western philosophy, Chinese philosophy, and Indian philosophy).

Feel free to leave me anonymous feedback about anything at all.

Teaching

  • S15: Death and the Meaning of Life [description]
  • An examination of some central philosophical questions concerning death and the meaning of life. Emphases may include existentialist literature and recent work on the metaphysics of death and on the meaning of life in the analytic tradition.
  • F14: Philosophy of Religion (independent study)
  • F14: Philosophy and Political Thought I [description]
  • An interdisciplinary module in the Yale-NUS common curriculum with an emphasis on classical philosophy in Chinese, Indian, and Greek traditions.
  • S14: Free Will and Science (independent study)
  • S14: Philosophy and Political Thought II [description]
  • An interdisciplinary module in the Yale-NUS common curriculum with an emphasis on modern philosophy in Western, Chinese, and Indian traditions.
  • F13: Philosophy and Political Thought I [description]
  • An interdisciplinary module in the Yale-NUS common curriculum with an emphasis on classical philosophy in Chinese, Indian, and Greek traditions.
  • S12: Death and Dying [description]
  • An intermediate-level course focusing on some questions about death, including: What is death? Does death harm those who die? Is it rational to fear death? Might we exist after death? What, if anything, makes killing wrong? When is killing permissible?
  • F11: Introduction to Philosophy [description]
  • An introductory course with both classical and contemporary readings. Topics covered include the existence of God, free will, human nature, knowledge, and an extended study of Descartes' Meditations.
  • S11: Introduction to Philosophy [description]
  • An introductory course with both classical and contemporary readings. Topics covered include the existence of God, free will, human nature, skepticism, and the demands of morality.
  • S09: Introduction to Philosophy
  • F08: Philosophy and Science Fiction
  • S08: Philosophy and Science Fiction
  • F07: Medical Ethics

Resources